Rus­sia ties can worsen, warns US

North Korea op­tions are ‘lim­ited’


SEC­RE­TARY of State Rex Tiller­son on Tues­day called for di­a­logue with North Korea and ac­knowl­edged that US re­la­tions with Rus­sia had de­te­ri­o­rated dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and could get worse.

Dur­ing wide-rang­ing com­ments at the State Depart­ment mark­ing six months since his con­fir­ma­tion, Tiller­son also ex­pressed con­cern about Iran’s re­gional pol­icy, the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Venezuela and war in Ukraine.

He said the US did not aim to de­pose the gov­ern­ment in Py­ongyang or use mil­i­tary force.“We do not seek an ex­cuse to send our mil­i­tary north of the 38th Par­al­lel.”

“We are try­ing to con­vey to the North Kore­ans: ‘We are not your en­emy, we are not your threat. But you are pre­sent­ing an un­ac­cept­able threat to us, and we have to re­spond’.”

He said the US hoped “at some point” North Korea would un­der­stand that and meet for di­a­logue.

The sec­re­tary of state said the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been at­tempt­ing to ex­ert “peace­ful pres­sure” on North Korea, “be­cause the op­tions avail­able to us are lim­ited, par­tic­u­larly if we think we are op­er­at­ing un­der a short pe­riod of time”.

Tiller­son talked to re­porters dur­ing a sur­prise ap­pear­ance in the brief­ing room, his first since be­com­ing sec­re­tary six months ago.

He said that de­spite the US’s de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia, the coun­tries still can co-op­er­ate on Syria and coun­tert­er­ror­ism, items that will be on the agenda when Tiller­son meets Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov this week­end in the Philip­pines.

“I don’t think the Amer­i­can peo­ple want us to have a bad re­la­tion­ship with a huge nu­clear power, but I think they are frus­trated,” he said. Tiller­son said Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Lavrov had been warned that “the sit­u­a­tion’s bad, but... can get worse. And it just did.”

Tiller­son voiced scep­ti­cism about whether the nu­clear deal with Iran, of­fi­cially known as the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Action, has value for the US.

“It’s an agree­ment that should serve Amer­ica’s in­ter­ests first and fore­most, and if it doesn’t serve that in­ter­est, then why would we main­tain it?” he asked.

Tiller­son has ar­gued that the deal is flawed but should be main­tained, at least for now, be­cause the al­ter­na­tive is worse.

“I think there are a lot of al­ter­na­tive means with which we use the agree­ment to ad­vance our poli­cies in the re­la­tion­ship with Iran,” he said.

He brushed off crit­i­cism of his man­age­ment of the State Depart­ment. Hun­dreds of se­nior po­si­tions are un­filled, and some of his po­si­tions have been re­but­ted by the White House or a pres­i­den­tial tweet.

The crit­i­cisms have fed ru­mours that he’s frus­trated about spar­ring with the White House over pol­icy and com­plaints within the depart­ment he is try­ing to “re­design” and that he has con­sid­ered re­sign­ing.

But Tiller­son sounded res­o­lute Tues­day, de­scrib­ing his re­la­tion­ship with US Pres­i­dent Donal Trump as “very open”.

“It’s one in which I feel quite com­fort­able telling him my views,” he said. “He and I have dif­fer­ences of views on things (like the Iran nu­clear deal) and how we should use it. I think if we’re not hav­ing those dif­fer­ences, I’m not sure I’m serv­ing him.”

Tiller­son also ex­pressed alarm about Venezuela, and sug­gested the US would be pleased if Pres­i­dent Ni­colás Maduro de­cided to leave of­fice.

Mean­while, Venezuela’s mil­i­tary and cab­i­net ex­pressed their con­tin­ued sup­port for Maduro on Tues­day, a day af­ter the US an­nounced sanc­tions against the pres­i­dent.

The sanc­tions were in re­tal­i­a­tion for de­fy­ing the White House by re­fus­ing to can­cel elec­tions for a Na­tional Con­stituent Assem­bly to re­write their con­sti­tu­tion.

Venezue­lan De­fence Min­is­ter Vladimir Padrino Lopez af­firmed that the Na­tional Bo­li­var­ian Armed Forces re­mained loyal to the pres­i­dent.

US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son speaks to the me­dia. PIC­TURE: AP

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